Lesson 7: Getting Personal: Pro-sumti
So far we've been referring to everybody by name, which can get very
repetitive if you want to tell a story, or even string two sentences
together. Consider the following:
- la suzyn. klama le barja .i la suzyn ze'e pinxe loi vanju .i la suzyn. zgana lo nanmu .i le nanmu cu melbi .i caku le nanmu cu zgana la suzyn.
- Susan goes to the bar. Susan drinks some wine for a while. Susan notices [sees, observes] a man. The man is beautiful. At that moment, the man notices Susan.
Note the use of melbi — in
English we usually
describe men as "handsome" rather than "beautiful", but this rather
sexist distinction doesn't apply in Lojban. However, if you really
wanted a Lojban word for "handsome" (beautiful-kind-of-man) I suppose
you could say melnau (melbi + nanmu).
pretty tedious to have to keep repeating "Susan" and "man". English
gets round this problem by using pronouns, like "she" or "he".
This works OK in this case, because we have one female and one male in
the story so far, but it can get confusing when more characters enter
the scene (and it's even more confusing with languages that only have
one word for "he", "she" and "it", like Turkish or spoken Chinese).
Lojban has pro-sumti, which are
like pronouns—sort of.
fact, we've already met some pro-sumti: mi and do, and the ti/ta/tu group, but we still don't have he/she/it,
which are a bit more complicated. One way of dealing with this is a
group of cmavo which refer back to something
we've just said. In fact we have met one of these in a different
context: go'i. Just as go'i on its own repeats the previous bridi, le go'i repeats the first sumti of the
So we can rewrite the first three sentences as
la suzyn. klama le barja .i le go'i ze'e pinxe loi vanju .i le go'i zgana lo nanmu
The system breaks down here, though, since
nanmu is not in the first, but the second place
of the previous bridi. English doesn't bother
with precision here—"he" just
means "some male person mentioned earlier." This works in the example
here, because there is only one man in the story, but what about
Bill saw Rick. He hit him
Did Bill hit Rick, or did Rick hit Bill? We don't know.
Coming back to the man Susan
saw, we can refer to him as ri, which means "the
most recent sumti". So we can say
.i le go'i zgana lo nanmu .i ri melbi
ri is one of a series, ri/ra/ru,
meaning "the most recent/fairly recent/distant sumti", but as far as
I've noticed, ra and ru aren't very popular in Lojbanistan at the moment. ri, on the
other hand, is used a lot, since it's
very common for the last thing in one sentence to be the subject of the
Another pro-sumti is da, which means
"someone/something". You may remember zo'e, which means also
means "something", but with zo'e the something is unimportant -
it's just a way of filling a sumti place. da, on the
other hand, is important—it is something or someone we are talking
Note for logicians: da is the "existential
x", as in "There exists some x such that x is ..."
Coming back to our story, we could start by saying
da klama le barja—"Someone came to the bar." da and its companions
de and di are used a lot for talking about language
- you see them frequently on the Lojban e-mail list, for example. By
the way, there are no do and du in this series, because
these already have other meanings: "you" and "is the same thing as".
If we're telling a story in English, the
meaning of, say, "she" keeps changing. At the moment, it means "Susan",
but if Susan's friend Jyoti walks into the bar, "she" could very well
mean "Jyoti". In Lojban, we can keep on using le go'i,
ri and their relatives, but there is an easier way of dealing
with a larger cast of characters.
What we do is assign pro-sumti as
and when we need them, using the cmavo goi (which I am
told is like the Latin word sive). The sumti assigned by
goi are a series called KOhA, consisting of ko'a,
ko'e, ko'i ... you get the idea?
Note for grammarians: series of cmavo (called
Lojban) are referred to by the name of a typical member written in
capitals (with a small "h" instead of the apostrophe). For example, the
attitudinals we looked at in Lesson 1 are part of selma'o .UI .
Note for lawyers (and frustrated non-lawyers): the
equivalent in legal documents of goi is
"henceforth referred to as," and ko'a is
something like "the party of the first part". Lojban has
in fact been proposed as the ideal language for law, where precision is
of utmost importance. It would also allow non-lawyers to understand
legal documents, which would be something of a miracle.
OK, let's go back to Susan's story. We start by saying
la suzyn. goi ko'a klama le barja
This means that from now on, every
time we use ko'a, we mean "Susan". The man she
sees can then be ko'e, so we say
.i ko'a zgana lo nanmu goi ko'e
Now every time we use ko'e it means that
particular man, so the full story so far reads:
la suzyn. goi ko'a klama le barja .i ko'a ze'e pinxe loi vanju .i ko'a zgana lo nanmu goi ko'e .i ko'e melbi .i caku ko'e zgana ko'a
(note how the cus have disappeared—ko'a, like mi, doesn't need them).
Assigning ko'e to lo nanmu is actually better than
starting the next sentence with le nanmu. This is because le nanmu
simply means "the thing I have in mind which I call 'man',"
which is not exactly the same as "the man" (it could, in theory, be
something totally different). Some Lojbanists would even say that using
le like this is a bit malglico.
Note: if you combine
ko'a/e/i/o/u with ri/ra/ru, don't count ko'a-type pro-sumti when
you're counting back. For example
la suzyn. rinsa ko'e .i ri cisma
doesn't mean that ko'e (the man, in this
context) smiles, but that Susan smiles. This is
because it is pointless to have a backwards-pointing (anaphoric) pro-sumti referring to a fixed pro-sumti like ko'e—it's
simpler just to re-use ko'e and keep
ri/ra/ru for more important things.
Let's continue by
introducing Susan's friend Jyoti (if people are wondering where I get
all these unusual names from, Jyoti is an old Gujarati friend of mine).
We continue ....
caku la djiotis. goi ko'i mo'ine'i .i ko'i cusku lu coi ranjit. li'u ko'e
At that time, Jyoti henceforth
third-thing-referred-to moving-inside. Third-thing-referred-to says
"Hello Ranjeet" to second-thing-referred-to.
Just then Jyoti comes in
and says "Hello, Ranjeet" to the guy. mo'ine'i is
another space "tense". mo'i indicates movement;
ne'i means "inside" (from the gismu, nenri). The selbri is missed out because the way Jyoti moves is not important (klama is possible, but unnecessary, but we could use bajra, for
example). This is creative Lojban—it's not exactly ungrammatical to
leave a selbri out like this, but it means that
this is a sentence-fragment, not a bridi. Don't
try this at home, kids.
lu, li'u, du'u and vo'a
lu and li'u are like
"quote" and "unquote"—they put something someone says into a sumti. li'u is one of the
few terminators that can almost never be missed out, since that would
make everything else that follows part of the quotation. You can also
nest quotations, e.g.
- la ranjit. pu cusku lu la djiotis. pu cusku lu coi li'u mi li'u
- Ranjeet said "Jyoti said "Hello" to me."
which is similar to
- la ranjit. pu cusku lu la djiotis. pu rinsa mi li'u
- Ranjeet said "Jyoti greeted me."
Both can also be expressed in a rather more subtle way:
- la ranjit. pu cusku le du'u la djiotis. pu rinsa vo'a
- Ranjeet past-express the-predicate Jyoti past-greet the-first-place OR Ranjeet said that Jyoti greeted him.
du'u is a tricky but very useful cmavo meaning, in logical terms, "the predicate".
What this means in ordinary language is something like "the statement
that X is true". Sorry, that wasn't really ordinary language. The
closest equivalent in English is "that", as in "Ranjeet said
that ...". Here's another example of du'u:
- la suzyn. na djuno le du'u la jang. cinynei vo'a
- Susan doesn't know that Zhang fancies ("sexually-likes") her.
And here we have another pro-sumti: vo'a. This means "the first sumti of this bridi", and
like the others, comes in a series—vo'e refers
to the second sumti, vo'i to the third and so on. In practice, vo'a is used quite a lot, while the others are
rarer, but that could be because people still tend to think in terms of
natural languages (notably English), and as people start
thinking more in Lojban, the others could get used more.
vo'a is very useful to give the sense of "herself", "itself" and so on. For
- la meilis. pensi vo'a
- Mei Li thinks about herself.
- le gerku cu batci vo'a
- The dog bites itself.
You can also say
- mi nelci vo'a
- I like myself.
but this is the same as mi nelci mi, which
is simpler and more aesthetic.
Now for something clever.
- la suzyn. zgani la djiotis. soi vo'a vo'e
- Susan notices Jyoti and vice versa. OR Susan and Jyoti notice each other.
soi is a cmavo meaning
something like "you can change these sumti round
and the bridi will still be true". If there is
only one sumti after the soi, the other one is taken to be the one
immediately beforesoi. So we
can say the same thing more briefly as
la suzyn. zgani la djiotis. soi vo'a, or even just
ko'a zgani ko'i soi vo'a (vo'a is fixed, and,
unlike ri can point back to
ko'a, though you can also repeat ko'a if you prefer).
Translate the following. Assume the same values for
ko'a/e/i that we have been using so far (i.e.
Susan, and so on).
Note:doi is used to show
who you're talking to (without doi the cmene might become the first sumti of the bridi). It's a
bit like English "O" (as in "O ye of little faith") or the Latin
vocative (as in "Et tu, Brute").
.i ko'a ca cusku lu .ue coi li'u ko'i soi vo'a .i ko'a .e ko'i xanka cmila .i caku le go'i catlu ko'e .i ko'e cusku lu doi djiotis. le do pendo mo li'u .i ko'i cusku lu la suzyn. li'u .i ko'e cusku .ui lu lo do pendo du lo mi pendo li'u .i ko'i fengu catlu ko'e .i ko'a xunfirbi'o
~nervous, worried; catlu~~look at
[compare with zgani]; pendo~
angry; xunfirbi'o—blush [xunre (red) + flira (face) +
binxo (become) ]
Some more personal pro-sumti
We've already seen two personal pro-sumti, mi and do, meaning "I" (or
"you". However, "you" in English can mean four different things:
- The one person I'm talking to.
- A number of people I'm talking to.
- The person or people I'm talking to and some other person or people.
- Anyone (as in "Money can't buy you love.").
Lojban gets round the confusion between 1. and 2. by using numbers. The
most common way to express 2. is rodo, "all of
you" (or U.S. "Y'all") and, as we've seen, coi rodo is "Hello all"—a
common way to start an e-mail to a list.
You can also use specific numbers—redo would
mean "the two of you" or "you two" (for example, I start e-mails to my
parents with coi redo). You can also use
numbers with doi e.g. rodoi ko klama ti.
3. is expressed by do'o—you and someone
else, and 4. is completely different. It's normally expressed by roda or, more specifically
ro le prenu, but often you can just miss it out altogether.
English "we" is almost as confusing, as it can mean the speaker and the
listener(s), the speaker and some other people, or the speaker and the
listener and some other people. Not surprisingly, Lojban has three
pro-sumti for "we":
- mi'o—you and I (but no-one else)
- mi'a —I and another / others (but not you)
- ma'a—you and I and another / others
- mi prami do
- I love you.
- mi'a penmi do ti'u la cicac.
- We'll meet you at three o'clock.
- ma'a remna
- We are all human.
The story continues! For each of the pro-sumti in bold say who or what they mean. Just two other
points: ka is like nu,
but while nu describes a state or event, ka describes a property or quality. na'e is like na but only
negates the selbri—it says that there is some
relationship between the sumti other than that
which the selbri describes. As we saw in Lesson
5, mi na nelci ro lo gerku means "It is not true
that I like all dogs," (or "I don't like all dogs), while mi na'e nelci ro lo gerku is more like "I dislike
ko'a mliburna .i ko'a mo'ini'a clatu le kabri .i caku ri simlu leka cinri ko'a .i ko'e cinba ko'i soi vo'a .i ko'i cusku lu pe'i redo puzi ninpe'i li'u .i le vanju cu simlu leka mutce cinri .i ko'a sutra pinxe le go'i .i ko'e cusku lu .yyy. na go'i .i mi'a puze'e na'e penmi li'u .i baziku ko'a cmila .i ko'a cusku lu .u'i redo bebna .i .e'u
ma'a klama lo dansydi'u
~mildly embarrassed [milxe (mild) + burna (embarrassed) ]; ni'a~~down, below (space
~cup, glass; vanju~~wine; simla—seem [x1 seems to have
property x2 to observer x3]; cinri~
~interesting; pe'i~~"I think" (opinion
attitudinal); ninpe'i—meet for the first
time [cnino (new) + penmi (meet)]; .y.—"er"
~much, very; bebna~~silly; .e'u~ ~suggestion (attitudinal); dansydi'u~~
disco [dansu (dance) + dinju (building)].
Answers to Exercises
Jyoti say "Oh! Hello!" to each other at the same time. They laugh
nervously. At that moment, Jyoti looks at Ranjeet. He says "Who's
your friend?" She says "Susan." He says "Delighted—any friend of
yours is a friend of mine." She looks at him angrily. Susan blushes.
Note that in order to get this into understandable English, we've
had to change some of the pro-sumti back into names. We could also make
the translation sound more natural by changing the word order a bit
more, changing "says" to "asks" when it's a question, and maybe putting
the whole thing into the past tense. du here translates as "is",
but don't use it for just any case of "is"—it is like the = sign in
maths and can only be used for two expressions that describe the same
thing. Using du to translate the "is" in, say, "Susan is a
doctor" is extremelymalglico.
la suzyn. du lo mikce would mean that Susan is the same as each and every doctor
(the correct Lojban would be simply la suzyn. mikce).
- ri = le kabri
- vo'a = la ranjit. "Ranjeet and Jyoti kiss each other."
- redo = la suzyn. .e la ranjit. "You two."
- le go'i = le vanju "She drinks it quickly."
- go'i = la suzyn. puzi ninpe'i la ranjit. soi vo'a Note that here go'i refers not to the previous sentence in the story, but to the previous sentence in the conversation. Obviously Susan wouldn't be talking about a story that hasn't been written yet!
- ma'a = la suzyn. .e la ranjit. .e la djiotis. "Let's [all] go to the disco."
Very loose translation
Susan felt a bit embarrassed. She
looked down at her glass. Just then, she found it very interesting.
Ranjeet and Jyoti kissed each other. "I think you two have just met,"
she said. The wine was somehow incredibly interesting, and she drank it
quickly. "Errr, no, we've never met," said Ranjeet. A little later,
Susan laughed. "Come on, you're both being silly," she said, "Let's go
to the disco."